Mexican cartels gain ground in European drug trade

Extremely violent Mexican drug gangs including the notorious Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel are becoming key players in the European drugs market, police agency Europol warned on Friday.

"Over the last decade, Mexican organised crime groups have developed a central role in the international organised crime landscape," Europol said in a statement.

"They have become global market coordinators in trafficking cocaine for the European and North American markets, and in the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs for the European, North American and Asian markets.

The Mexicans have direct agreements with producers in South America, middlemen in Nigeria and buyers including Italy's 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, Europol said.

Los Zetas, a powerful cartel founded by former Mexican special forces soldiers, are also reportedly involved in human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

In addition these Mexican gangs smuggle weapons from Europe to be used for barter in South and Central America.

Relentless bloodletting among rival Mexican drug cartels is blamed for some 25,000 deaths since December 2006, when president Felipe Calderon launched a massive crackdown on crime, deploying 50,000 troops across the country.

"We do not want the level of violence and brutality which we see in Mexico mirrored in Europe," said Europol director Rob Wainwright.

"Together with our law enforcement partners we will continue our efforts to tackle the criminals who are active within the illegal drug markets and ensure that Mexican organised crime groups cannot gain a foothold in Europe," he was quoted as saying.

"Mexican organised criminal gangs have an extremely violent operating culture and the capacity to rapidly resort to violence," Europol said in a Threat Notice.

However, only an isolated number of cases related to the use of violence, including murders carried out by the so-called 'sicarios' (dagger men), have been attributed to members of these groups in Europe, to date," Europol said.